Some travel to change their lives, others the world. But, a truly transformative trip has the power to do both. Just ask Claire Russo, who last year spent her holiday vacation with Habitat for Humanity in the La Ceiba, Honduras, where she cleared a site, poured cement and laid the foundation for a home for a local poverty-stricken family. “We were all there because we genuinely cared about helping others, and it was wonderful to connect with both Americans and Hondurans during such a physically demanding experience.”
There’s growing evidence that the Volunteer Vacations trend is blossoming into a bigger phenomena. A 2007 Travelocity survey found that 17.7 percent of respondents had taken a vacation that incorporated volunteering or philanthropy—a number that’s up 13 percent from the previous year and expected to rise even higher in 2008. But tour operators and travel companies, new and old, are one-upping that trend through new programs and products, tapping into the feel-good Zeitgeist and our collective desire for something more from our adventures abroad, and at home.
And that “something more” depends entirely on individual interests, causes, and world view. For some eco-conscious travelers, investigating the Incan environmental practices in Peru under the guidance of Charles Darwin’s grandson may be the trip of a lifetime. For others, a journey to Cambodia’s temples and then to its villages to meet the custodians of the sacred sites is rewarding.
But lest you think the movement is more medicine than pleasure, think again. Today, creative companies are mixing such traditionally appealing activities as biking and wine-tasting in France with classes on biodynamic viticulture in an attempt to broaden travelers horizons even further—and it’s working.
Even something as simple as supporting local economy by returning with a suitcase full of crafts purchased from a local artisan can having meaningful and lasting impact. Ultimately, travelers today are seeking a connection-be it with nature, destination, culture, people—in hopes of returning home with the ultimate souvenir: a memorable one-of-a-kind experience.